RPE: Effective Protection From Respirable Diseases At Work

25 February 2019

The HSE are conducting inspections as part of their latest initiative to protect workers from occupational hazards such as asbestos and other work-related respiratory diseases in the London and South East areas. It is imperative that all workers are aware of what Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) to use and how to use it correctly, in line with regulatory compliance.


According to the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF), recent UK research suggests that up to 50% of all the Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) used does not offer adequate protection to the wearer.

Inadequate face fit testing (for workers requiring close-fit masks), results in leaks due to poor fit. This is a major cause of exposure to harmful dust, that is ultimately hazardous to health.

Those responsible for managing health and safety, or procuring services requiring RPE must ensure face fit testing has been conducted.

This includes that the testing is up-to-date and that the correct RPE is being used; that is both adequate for the project and suitable for the wearer.


Types Of RPE

Depending on the type of work being conducted, employees identified (through risk assessments) as being at risk of exposure to hazardous dust or other respirable substances must wear suitable face-fit tested RPE.

Ensuring your teams and contractors are provided with (and using) Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) correctly is a key step to safeguard from occupational related respiratory diseases such as Asbestosis and Silicosis.

To prevent exposure to dust, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH), the Control of Lead at Work (CLaW), Ionising Radiation Regulations 2017 (IRR17), the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR 2012), and other related Associated Codes of Practice Guidance (ACOP), require that RPE is correctly selected. In addition,  many types of RPE (tight-fitting face pieces), must undergo adequate face fit testing for each individual wearer where harmful substances may be present. Face fit testing must also be carried out by a competent person with adequate knowledge, instruction, and training in conducting Face Fit testing.


Face Fit Testing

Providing RPE to your employees, or ensuring your contractors are providing the correct RPE to their teams, is one step in the line of protection against occupational respiratory diseases. It is important to emphasise that RPE is only effective when the wearer uses RPE correctly and the RPE is maintained.

According to the HSG53, RPE at work should:

  • Adequately control inhalation exposure to provide the wearer with effective protection;
  • Be suitable for the intended use;
  • Be CE-marked or of an approved type/standard approved by the HSE;
  • Be used by properly trained people who are supervised;
  • Be properly stored, cleaned and checked regularly to ensure it remains effective.

There are two types of face fit testing; Qualitative (subjective) and Quantitative (measurable) testing. The type of testing required is dependant upon the environment in which the RPE (Respiratory Protective Equipment) will be used and the type of RPE.


Qualitative Testing

Qualitative testing is subjective as it relies upon the wearer’s sense of taste. The mask wearer will wear a ‘loose-fitting hood’ firstly without a mask and the tester sprays a distinctive tasting solution into the hood. The wearer then indicates when they taste the solution.

The mask wearer then wears both the mask and the hood and the taste test is repeated. At this stage, the RPE filter will be removing the solution from the inhaled air. If at any point the wearer can taste the solution then the test is stopped as air is entering the mask from another location, other than the filter. The mask on the user will be checked to see if the breach is due to the way the mask is worn or a different make or model solves the issue. If the test is completed with no solution tasted then the test is passed.


Quantitative Testing

Quantitative testing relies on particle counting to determine the effectiveness of the face fit seal as opposed to relying on the individual wearer. During the test, a particle generator releases particles into the test room. There are particle counters both in the room and in the mask. The number of particles that enter the mask during this time are measured by a machine determining the mask’s effectiveness.


HSE Inspections

During an inspection by the HSE (Guidance HSE INDG479), auditors will check that:

  • Employers have suitable evidence of the RPE characteristics and that it is suitable for use in the working environment and well maintained;
  • Documentation of the Face Fit Tests along with the certificate and failed results;
  • Annual clean and calibration reports;
  • Masks in use fit the wearers.


Control Measures

Whilst providing RPE as a suitable control measure to prevent unnecessary exposures that can affect employees lungs, it is important to assess all the risks that may be present (including possible unforeseen risks) in the space your employees and contractors are working and consider further control measures and engineered controls to minimise the risks of exposure.

From this risk assessment, you can then collate your Occupational Health and Safety Management System (ISO 45001: 2018), detailing the actions required to control the risks. This should include methods of prevention, a list of PPE and RPE required and review and assessment dates to assess if the plan is effective in prevent exposure to potentially deadly dust.


Prevent The Spread Of Dust

  • Ensure a cohesive plan is available and communicated to all relevant teams detailing how operations should be conducted to prevent workplace exposures;
  • Containing any activity that may result in causing or spreading of airborne dust contaminants through segregation/enclosures;
  • If possible dampen materials to minimise the release of dust during works;
  • Where possible, implement mechanical ventilation to clean the air in the affected area to control the number of hazardous dust fibres in the air;
  • Conduct regular Asbestos Exposure Assessments or other substance exposure assessments;
  • If it is not possible to prevent exposure by any other method, provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including RPE in conjunction with the Workplace Exposure Regulations (WELs).


Prevention Education

Ensuring Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is effectively used is imperative to protection. Integrating RPE with standard operational procedures along with other control measures, and ensuring adequate training is provided for RPE users negates improper and ineffective use of RPE.

Conducting Face Fit Testing in conjunction with COSHH Awareness training courses regarding harmful substances can help the employees understand how to correctly use their RPE and assist you as an employer to ensure health and safety practices are enforced by the individual.


Further Reading

British Safety Industry Federation: https://www.bsif.co.uk/

HSE Respiratory Protective Equipment Website: http://www.hse.gov.uk/respiratory-protective-equipment/

Control Of Substance Hazardous To Health Services: https://www.lucionservices.com/services/coshh-compliance/

HSE Control Of Lead At Work: http://www.hse.gov.uk/lead/

HSE Control Of Asbestos Regulations: http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/regulations.htm

COSHH Awareness Training: https://www.lucionservices.com/training-courses/coshh-awareness/

Lucion Consulting: https://www.lucionservices.com/companies/lucion-consulting/

Lucion Consulting Training Courses: https://www.lucionservices.com/companies/lucion-training/

Qualitative Face Fit Testing – Lucion Consulting: https://www.lucionservices.com/training-course-categories/health-and-safety/

HSE Operational Circular 282/28: http://www.hse.gov.uk/foi/internalops/ocs/200-299/282_28.pdf

Occupational Health And Safety Management System (ISO 45001: 2018): https://www.lucionservices.com/services/iso-45001-2018/

Respiratory Protective Equipment At Work HSG53 (2013): http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/priced/hsg53.pdf

Asbestos Exposure Assessments – Specialist Consultants: https://www.lucionservices.com/services/asbestos-exposure-assessments/

Protect Your Team: Managing The Workplace Exposure Risk: https://www.lucionservices.com/work-place-exposure-limits-update-coshh/

Top Of The Charts: Lucion Consulting Named Best Training Provider In UK: https://www.lucionservices.com/lucion-consulting-named-best-training-provider-in-the-uk/

Lucion Consulting Health And Safety Course: https://www.lucionservices.com/training-course-categories/health-and-safety/


RPE Face Fit Test Guide

Depending on the type of work being conducted, employees identified (through risk assessments) as being at risk of exposure to hazardous dust or other respirable substances must wear suitable face-fit tested RPE.

Discover the various types of RPE and whether your RPE needs to be face-fit tested with our free download from Lucion Consulting.

Download From NexGen

Tool Box Talk: Asbestos Awareness

As part of Lucion’s Take Care Be Aware initiative, we actively take care of our health and safety responsibilities, with continuous awareness of our commitments to knowledge share and educate.

In doing so we have created a ‘toolbox talk’ on asbestos awareness to raise awareness of the hazards associated with asbestos-containing materials, enabling safety professionals to share knowledge and overall save the time and effort in producing them for you and your teams.

Download From NexGen

What Should You Do If You Discover Asbestos?

Does your team know what to do in the event that they find asbestos? Use our simple asbestos discovery flowchart to inform your teams about what to do when suspected asbestos is discovered.

Download From NexGen